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How to overwinter tea plants.


It is entirely possible to grow the tropical tea plant, Camellia Sinensis to survive in southern freezes. It is most commonly grown in zones 7 - 10 but with some plants growing outside of that zone. Our zone in Brookhaven, Mississippi is a Zone 8b.

If you don't know what growing zone you are in for North America quickly go here first.

Over the years we have learned a lot about successfully growing tea plants in the unpredictable weather conditions of the South. Temperatures here in the winter months can get into the 20's (-6c) and it does occasionally dip even below that. The coldest day on record in Mississippi is -19F (-28C) experienced in 1966. Now, we did not have tea plants in 1966, so we cannot make claims to those extreme's. We can speak to the more normal cold fluctuations experienced here in the south.

Tea Plants

Can tea plants survive frost?

Surprisingly, yes! Despite the fact that a tea plant is a tropical plant, it can withstand frost. If a deep freeze occurs the tea leaves may need to be pruned to remove damaged leaves but the actual plants will be fine and will grow new leaves in the spring.

What temperatures can tea plants survive in?

We recently experienced our 3rd lowest temperature on record here and the coldest in 30 years. We hit -1F/-18C windchill and our plants survived. There can be other factors that can determine the survival rate though. Age of the plants, their protection if any and wind.

In the South our freezes don't tend to last very long, maybe just a few days. But tea plants surviving in the South's lows, is likely. For a tropical plant, they are quite hardy.

How to protect tea plants in a freeze?

Cloth Cover

In our experience wind is the biggest threat to our tea plants. If you have a small number of tea plants you can simply cover them with some cloth to help protect from the wind and hold in some heat. 

When you cover the tea plants it is ideal to cover them ground to ground on both sides at least one day ahead of your freezing temperatures. This helps capture some heat within the cover.

Last week, we got the 3rd lowest temperature on record here and the coldest in 30 years. We hit -1F/-18C windchill. We also stayed at the temperature for close to 48 hours. We placed a Govee sensor under the cloth with the plants (on the windy side edge where it should have been the coldest) and we only registered a temp of 24F/-4C and a windchill of 16F/-9C. We watered them until water soaked so the pots froze and the ice gave a protective insulation layer at 32F/0C. The plants had little no wind burn damage and they look just fine.

So can a tea plant survive winter?

Yes! It sure can in the south and likely some areas farther north as well. But it will take some protection and care.

The field is not so green, but we will prune the tips off before next year. So if you are looking for a tropical with hardy attributes, tea plants are for you!

 

Need more tea growing help. Check these great articles:

 
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